Apparently the rules have changed

   After further review, the Sun Belt Conference is awarding a men's basketball regular season championship this year for the first time since divisional play was implemented. Why? Because they have to in order to satisfy the National Invitation Tournament.
   But they are only doing it for men's basketball. Women's basketball apparently still does not have a regular season champ (other than division champs UALR and Middle Tennessee).
   It wasn't necessary for the men last year because the seeding was done 1-13 for the postseason tournament. This year, the seeding was done by divisions and there are two No. 1 seeds (FAU and Arkansas State). The NIT then gives an automatic bid to the conference regular season champ if they don't make the NCAA. If they do make it, the NIT doesn't have to take a team from that conference.
   The WNIT gives an automatic bid to the top team in the league that doesn't make the NCAA. Last year when UALR and Middle Tennessee made the NCAA Tournament, Western Kentucky got the automatic bid as the next-best team. If they had done it the same way as the men this year, UALR would have won it due to a head-to-head victory over Middle Tennessee.
   The rules for the men changed over the weekend. Last week, the Sun Belt wasn't awarding a regular-season men's basketball championship. This week, they are. So, congrats to the FAU men on a regular-season conference championship.

Bracket released, UALR women will play at 2:15 p.m. on Sunday

    The bracket has been released for the Sun Belt Conference women’s tournament this week at Summit Arena in Hot Springs.
   The UALR women will play at 2:15 p.m. on Sunday afternoon against the winner of the Louisiana-Lafayette vs. South Alabama game. UALR is scheduled to play all of its games in Summit Arena if it continues to advance. The other team with a bye in UALR’s side of the bracket is Florida International, which will play either Troy or Louisiana-Monroe.
   Middle Tennessee and Denver have the other two first-round byes and are in the opposite side of the bracket.
   The men's bracket will be released after Tuesday's UALR-North Texas game. The winner will be seeded fourth and will play Troy on Saturday.

Did ASU really cut down the nets for a division championship?

   I just heard Phil talking about this at halftime of the women's game and I was just thinking the same thing. Did ASU really cut down the nets for a division championship today?
   UALR's men have won the division four times in the past eight seasons and the women have won the division four consecutive times. And on none of those eight occasions did nets get cut down.
   Trying to think back to where UALR was when it clinched. I know the first one for the men was at Las Cruces, N.M., on a Zack Graber three-pointer. The second was clinched at Alltel Arena on a layup by Darius Eason. The nets were not cut down for either. The third men's division championship was clinched at Louisiana-Monroe and the fourth at Denton, Texas. Again, the nets remained in place.
   On the women's side, the Trojans clinched this year's division championship with a home victory over Middle Tennessee. Again, the nets stayed in place. Last year's division title was clinched at Denver, Colorado. The previous year the division title was clinched in a home victory over Western Kentucky. And UALR's first women's division championship was clinched at Monroe, La. All nets remained in place.
   Obviously it's not going to happen in a road game. But it's happened three times at home for UALR.

Arkansas State shoots 35 more free throws than UALR as Red Wolves hold off Trojans

71      63
   UALR leads about three-quarters of the game in Jonesboro before falling 71-63 to Arkansas State.
Alex Garcia-Mendoza's 15 points leads UALR. Matt Mouzy had 13 and Solomon Bozeman 12.
   But only one statistic really figured in the outcome.
   UALR was called for 27 fouls to Arkansas State's 13.
   And UALR made 4 of 9 free throws to Arkansas State's 33 of 44.  
   UALR only fouled about 3-4 times in the final seconds to put ASU at the line. The free throw and foul disparity was huge in both halves.

BTH Predictions (2/26): UALR at Arkansas State

Arkansas State vs. UALR (+6.5)
3 p.m. today
The folks in Las Vegas see this as an easy victory for Arkansas State. They've got the Red Wolves as 6.5-point favorites. Here's today's predictions:

Ken Pomeroy (19-8): Arkansas State 68, UALR 62
Real Time RPI (18-9): Arkansas State 73, UALR 64
CBS Sportsline (18-9): Arkansas State 69, UALR 66
The Sports Network (17-10): Arkansas State 71, UALR 66
Jeff Sagarin (16-11): Arkansas State 74, UALR 69

Here's The Sports Network's game preview:

The UALR women take on Arkansas State at 7 p.m. at the Convo. Here's the women's predictions:
Real Time RPI (23-2): UALR 59, Arkansas State 58
Jeff Sagarin: UALR 76, Arkansas State 69

BTH Need to Read (2/26): If UALR and ASU schedule a game and media doesn't preview it .... .

Arkansas State vs. UALR
3 p.m. today
   Well, when it wasn't news when they played here it was surprising. But there's a lot on the line today as UALR travels to Arkansas State. Most of it is on Arkansas State's end (chance for division championship, first-round bye, undefeated home record). But they decided it wasn't even worthy of a story.
   Actually, we're not finding a men's story on the Sun's Web site either. I was told there is a very nice story on the front page of the main section. Too bad it's not showing up on the Web site.
   Much on the line for the Red Wolves today. Not so much for the Trojans (other than pride). ASU is likely the Sun Belt's best defensive team and will no doubt have a solid plan put together for the Trojans. UALR is going to have to make some shots or this could get ugly.
   The UALR women also take on ASU at 7 p.m. tonight at the Convocation Center. Read about Little Rock's Shay Scott, a senior for ASU:

South Alabama apparently pretty unimpressed by UALR last night

No social media is private, but Twitter is probably the least private of all. And after UALR got beat badly by South Alabama last night, USA’s Gary Redus and Arkansas State’s Brandon Peterson had this exchange:
y'all better kill UALR fam...they sorry as hell lmao
Lmao i got ya bruh. I see yall smashed dem tonite
shiiiid nigga im tired...the main thing i need is rest lol...imma old head now like kobe lol

Redus also had this to say to teammate Martino Brock:
lmao they was the worst hahaha...but yeah i gotta slay fau...n we gone beat them..but big sug prolly gone get locked up lol
Brandon Peterson’s Twitter is @bpeterson15
Gary Redus’ Twitter is @G_5601
And Martino Brock’s Twiter is @yso serious_901

Sun Belt stopped awarding an overall regular season champion when divisions were implemented

   Just so you know I'm not making this stuff up. This comes from the Sun Belt Website. It is a list of regular season Sun Belt champions. Note that in 2008, Western Kentucky and South Alabama finished with a better regular season conference record than UALR. And note that in 2007, South Alabama had a better conference record than Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe.
   In 2010, Middle Tennessee, North Texas and Troy all had identical records. In 2009, UALR and Western Kentucky had identical conference records (even though Western swept UALR in the regular season).
   The Sun Belt only awards regular season championships in basketball for division champions. This wasn't always the case. When UALR won the regular-season championship in 1996 there were no divisions. But once divisions were put into place, the regular season overall championship went away.
   This year, Florida Atlantic will be listed as the East Division champion. And either ULL, ASU or Denver or some combination of the three will be listed as the West Division champion.
(Men's Basketball (Regular Season)
2010Middle Tennessee
North Texas
Western Kentucky
2008South Alabama
Western Kentucky
2007Arkansas State
South Alabama

Plenty to play for on Saturday as UALR travels to Arkansas State

   While gaining a bye in the Sun Belt Tournament is no longer in play and UALR's seeding is just about established, there is still plenty to play for on Saturday as the Trojans travel to Arkansas State.
Arkansas State vs. UALR
3:05 p.m. Saturday
Jonesboro, Arkansas
   Primarily any gains UALR makes will have to be in the form of denying Arkansas State. The Red Wolves will attempt to finish the season undefeated at home, clinch at least a tie for the West Division Championship (they can win it outright if ULL loses at ULM) and a bye in the Sun Belt Tournament. And the game's televised on Comcast Sports Southeast and Cox Sports Television.
   UALR will be either the fourth or fifth seed in the conference tournament. A UALR victory over Arkansas State and a North Texas loss at home to Denver would lock UALR in as the fourth seed. Any other results would take the battle for fourth to Tuesday night's makeup game between UALR and North Texas at the Stephens Center.
   A UALR victory in either game would clinch an above .500 regular season and at least a .500 season overall.

BTH Need to Read (2/25): UALR elliminated from Sun Belt bye

   Well, if it makes you feel any better UALR's result last night was meaningless when it comes to getting a first-round bye in the Sun Belt Tournament. Arkansas State's victory over North Texas eliminated the Trojans from that. Without doing all the math yet, it appears UALR is locked in as either the fourth or fifth seed from the West Division.
   However, the defensive effort from UALR last night was pitiful. South Alabama scored at will. And when the Jaguars didn't score, UALR fouled them and sent them to the line. But, hey, you said you wanted exciting play and offense, right? Well, four Trojans reached double figures. Read about it in the Mobile Register:

   Then there's this headline from the South Florida Sun Sentinel: Owls Rip Troy 77-60 to win Sun Belt. Hmmm. Well, actually they didn't win anything. The Sun Belt only awards regular season championships to division winners. The only "Sun Belt" you can win is in the postseason tournament. Every year this happens. A few years ago Western Kentucky had to alter a story on its Web site proclaiming their title. I put the blame on the conference. They should notify these schools before this comes up. Anyway, FAU is still the East Division Champ and the No. 1 seed from that division. But last night's game did nothing to enhance their standing in the tournament.

UALR men lose 92-79 at South Alabama

   Stats have gone in and out all night so we don't have the numbers, but UALR lost 92-79 at South Alabama on Thursday night. Solomon Bozeman led UALR with 20 points.
79      92
   UALR trailed by as many as 25 before cutting the lead to single digits in the second half. But much like the majority of the game, UALR was unable to get a defensive stop. And the Trojans were unable to defend without fouling, committing twice as many fouls as the Jaguars.
   UALR drops to 7-7 in Sun Belt play and can no longer earn a bye in the Sun Belt Tournament. UALR will open Sun Belt Tournament play on Saturday, March 5 in Hot Springs.
   UALR finishes the season with a road game Saturday afternoon at Arkansas State and a home game next Tuesday against North Texas.

Hot Springs going all out as host of the Sun Belt Tournament

   Check out what's now running each day on the front page of the Hot Springs Sentinel Record. That's not the Sports page. That's the front page, above the fold, visible in all racks all over town.
   Having covered a number of Sun Belt Tournaments in a number of locations, I can never remember the host city going as far as they do in Hot Springs to promote this event.
   The director of the convention and visitors bureau was on local radio this week, talking up the tournament. And signs are starting to appear in town.
   Hot Springs also purchased a new court and had the Sun Belt logo painted on it. They'll use the old court in the alternate gymnasium at the Civic Center this year. That means no stickers on the floor. And no stickers means less slips and injuries.
   Props to Hot Springs.

Memo to Sun Belt basketball schools: There is no regular season overall championship

   It's time for the yearly memo to Sun Belt Conference basketball schools.
   Here it is:
   "There is no Sun Belt Conference regular season overall championship. No trophy. No anything."
   Every year about this time, someone is claiming they are about to win this mythical championship. And already today, I've seen reports from the Boca Raton, Fla., area saying that Florida Atlantic is on the verge of this.
   However, the Sun Belt only awards division championships in the regular season. The only overall champion award they give out is for Sun Belt Tournament champion.
   This year the team that finishes with the best overall record doesn't even get any extra reward in the Sun Belt Tournament. In the past, that feat has resulted in the No. 1 seed. This year, the seeds are done strictly by divisions. There is a No. 1 seed from the East (FAU already clinched that) and a No. 1 seed from the West (four teams are still in contention for this).
   Having said that, there is still something to play for. If FAU finishes with the best overall record, they earn an automatic invitation to the National Invitation Tournament. They just don't get to claim any sort of championship.

Tonight's rooting guide for UALR fans: UALR, UNT and ULL

   The Sun Belt Conference's West Division race couldn't be much tighter right now. Denver, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette are all tied atop at 9-5. UALR is fourth, but only 1.5 games out at 7-6.
   What does UALR need tonight?
UALR at South Alabama. Seriously, why are you reading this blog? Of course, root for: UALR.
North Texas at Arkansas State. UNT isn't playing well and I'm not ultimately sure you want to wake up the sleeping talent on that Mean Green team. But UALR must have this result if it has any hopes of earning a bye in the Sun Belt Tournament. And ASU is unbeaten at home this year. Root for: North Texas.
Denver at Louisiana-Lafayette. For tiebreaking purposes, choose the lesser of two evils. Root for: Louisiana-Lafayette.

Tonight's UALR-South Alabama predictions

UALR (+2) at South Alabama
7 p.m. tonight
Mobile, Alabama
The folks in Las Vegas favor South Alabama by two points tonight. Here's the national predictors:

Ken Pomeroy (19-7): UALR 68, South Alabama 67
Real Time RPI (17-9): South Alabama 68, UALR 67
CBS Sportsline (17-9): South Alabama 71, UALR 70
Jeff Sagarin (16-10): UALR 69, South Alabama 68
The Sports Network (16-10): South Alabama 67, UALR 64
Here's The Sports Network's breakdown of the game:

UALR vs. South Alabama preview

UALR at South Alabama
7 p.m. tonight
Mitchell Center
   Two things are apparent tonight. 1. South Alabama is going to pound it inside. 2. South Alabama is not going to let UALR stand out there and shoot three-pointers. If UALR can stay out of foul trouble, that may mean a lot more of the bigger lineup that started last game with Gus Leeper and Marlon Louzeiro in at the same time. Here's the game preview from the Mobile Register:
   In their victory over Denver on Sunday, USA pressed and switched all screens on their way to victory. That strategy could help UALR if they're patient.

   South Alabama will be without Rico Sanders the rest of the way. Not sure how much this will affect the Jags.

Reed nets 40, Rolfe a career-high 20 as UALR women win on the road at South Alabama

   Chastity Reed broke out with 40 points and Asriel Rolfe had a career-high 20 points as the UALR women won 75-66 over South Alabama at the Mitchell Center in Mobile, Ala.
   Reed had 30 first-half points before the offense bogged down in the second half. But Rolfe picked up the slack with her first 20-point game of her career. The rest of the Trojans combined to score just 15 points.
   UALR improves to 19-6 overall and 13-1 in the Sun Belt Conference. The West Division champions need one victory for their fifth-consecutive 20-victory season.
   Reed also added 11 rebounds, while Marian Kursh had 6 points and 10 rebounds. Shanika Butler had only 3 points but had 7 assists. Rolfe added six assists.
   UALR shot 47 percent from the field but wasn’t nearly as sound on the defensive end. The Lady Jags nearly matched that by shooting 46 percent. The difference in the scoring ended up being at the free throw line. UALR was 13 of 16 while South Alabama was 1 of 4.
   It was the fourth 40-point game of Reed’s career and broke the Mitchell Center record of 34 points set by former Middle Tennessee standout Alysha Clark.

Chastity Reed has 30 points in the first half as UALR leads South Alabama

   If you're not listening to the UALR women's game tonight, you might be missing history. Chastity Reed has 30 points at halftime as the UALR women lead South Alabama 46-29.
   Reed was 13 of 16 from the field, 1-1 from the three-point line, 4-4 from the free throw line and had 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a blocked shot.
   Her school record of 43 points is definitely in play tonight.
   Also in play is the Mitchell Center record of 34 points, set by former Middle Tennessee player Alysha Clark.

BTH Predictions: UALR women at South Alabama

   We laugh frequently about the inaccuracies of Real Time RPI. But they've been dead on in picking UALR women's basketball games this year. They've only missed twice all season (victory over FIU and loss to WKU).
   They're going with the Trojans again tonight as they return to the Temple of Doom, the site of UALR's last road loss in Sun Belt play. UALR has won 14 consecutive conference road games since then
Real Time RPI (22-2): UALR 58, South Alabama 57
Jeff Sagarin: UALR 76, South Alabama 71

ESPN's Charlie Creme has UALR as a No. 12 seed in NCAA Women's bracketology

Chastity Reed scores
during an early-season
game vs. highly-rated
Louisiana Tech.
   ESPN's Charlie Creme has UALR as a No. 12 seed in the NCAA Women's Tournament.
   But that is considering that UALR wins the Sun Belt Tournament. He has Middle Tennessee in his 4-8 ranked teams on the outside looking in. And if Middle Tennessee isn't in, UALR likely isn't either.
  Of course, that's if Creme knows what he's talking about. He left UALR out of his bracket last year and the Trojans got an at-large bid anyway.

Can UALR's Solomon Bozeman finish first team All-Sun Belt Conference?

   UALR senior guard Solomon Bozeman has a chance to be named to the five-member first team All-Sun Belt Conference team. In fact, barring a complete collapse this week, leaving Bozeman off the first team would buck a trend in Sun Belt Conference history.
Top scorers in Sun Belt
games this season
1. Solomon Bozeman, UALR  18.6
2. Tristan Thompson, UNT  17.5
3. Sergio Kerusch, WKU  16.6
4. Steffphon Pettigrew, WKU   15.9
5. Vernon Taylor, Troy   15.4
   In Sun Belt Conference games, Bozeman is averaging a league-best 18.6 points per game. He also is a league-best in points per 40 minutes (23.6), three-point shooting percentage (54.9) and in made free throws (88).
   Only one player in the past 14 seasons has led the Sun Belt in scoring during conference games and been left off of first team all-conference. That came in the 2008-2009 season when Florida Atlantic's Paul Graham III led the league but was named to the second team.
   Bozeman should probably also get some player of the year consideration, however, the trend doesn't favor him on this one. In the past 14 seasons, the player leading the Sun Belt in scoring in conference games has been named the player of the year only twice. Last year, Louisiana-Lafayette's Tyren Johnson won it and in 2004-2005 New Orleans' Bo McCalebb was the winner.
   For Bozeman to land on the first team, UALR probably needs to finish strong. Three losses to close the season and potentially a fifth-place finish in the division would make it easy to drop him. Three victories this week and a second place finish would get him into the POY conversation.
  The last UALR player to earn first team all-conference was Shane Edwards.

UALR women appear to be squarely on the bubble again this year for NCAA Women's Tournament

   Much like last year, it's not clear where the UALR women stand in the eyes of the NCAA Women's Basketball Committee.
   UALR has posted very similar numbers to last year's team, which was believed to be one of the final two at-large selections to the NCAA Women's Tournament. UALR rewarded the committee's faith by upsetting Georgia Tech in the first round.
   I ran the numbers over and over and over again last year. Ultimately, I decided that UALR was going to get left out of the field by one spot. I was wrong
   Last year and this year are similar, but have different strengths and weaknesses:
  • Conference record: 17-1 last year, 12-1 this year (with three games remaining)
  • Overall record: 26-6 last year (after SBT); 18-6 this year (with six possible games remaining)
  • RPI: 57 last year, 59 this year (projects to finish in high 40s or low 50s)
  • Strength of schedule: 164 last year, 105 this year
  • Vs. Top 25: 1-3 last year; 0-1 this year
  • Vs. 25 to 50: 0-0 last year; 2-1 this year
   Last year's team had one very big advantage. Their loss in the Sun Belt Tournament snapped a 22-game winning streak. And it came on a last-second shot in overtime of one of the best games of the year.
   This year's UALR advantage will have to come from what might have been. In a one-point loss to Southern Miss, senior Shanika Butler didn't play and senior Chastity Reed only played 12 minutes. And in a loss to Memphis, Reed didn't make the trip.
   Of course, losing at home to Western Kentucky last week hurts far more than if the Trojans had dropped either road game this week to South Alabama or Arkansas State.
   UALR's overall record isn't going to look as impressive even if it wins out until the championship game. Part of the reason is that the Trojans are playing two fewer games than allowed. They were already one short at the start of the season after having difficulty finding teams to play. Then they had to cancel the game against South Dakota State due to travel (Sugar Bowl?) complications. South Dakota State is only 15-14 on the season, so it's not clear how much that game would have helped. Two more victories would definitely help the winning percentage.
  The only thing for sure is that UALR is going to have to sweat it out if it doesn't win the Sun Belt Tournament.

BTH Need to Read: Nice column by Harry King on UALR Coach Joe Foley


UALR's Chastity Reed has bigger game than stats might indicate in victory over Middle Tennessee on Sunday

   How good was UALR's Chastity Reed in Sunday's 69-61 victory over Middle Tennessee?
   She went 6 of 12 from the field, 3 of 3 at the free throw line, had 6 rebounds, 1 offensive rebound which she scored on, and 6 assists with only 2 turnovers in 35 minutes.
   How does that translate into wins and losses?
   For the 35 minutes Reed was in the game, UALR outscored Middle Tennessee 63-46. For the five minutes Reed was on the bench, Middle Tennessee outscored UALR 15-6.
   That makes Reed a +17 for Sunday's game, far and away the best rating. But the others in the starting five were pretty solid as well. Shanika Butler was a +10, Asriel Rolfe a +8 and Marian Kursh and Janette Merriex +6 each.
   Butler's +185 is the season best. In the past five games, Butler's +64 leads the way.

Expect a free-for-all in the Sun Belt Conference men's tournament in Hot Springs

   No doubt Louisiana-Lafayette's eight consecutive Sun Belt Conference victories have made it the favorite in the postseason tournament next month in Hot Springs. But it's not as if the Ragin' Cajuns are just blowing everyone away. They're making the key plays at the key times to pull out these games. And that's been the story of the Sun Belt as a whole this year.
   Consider this: Louisiana-Lafayette's average margin of victory in the nine games its won has been just 4.6 points. Four of those victories came by three points or fewer and another one (a six-point victory over South Alabama) came in overtime.
   That, in and of itself, is the reason the Sun Belt Tournament appears to be a free-for-all this year.
   But consider that then-West Division leader Denver got knocked off at home by South Alabama, the fifth place team in the East, on Sunday. And that East Division leader Florida Atlantic needed overtime to win against sixth-place team Florida International on Saturday.
   The current West Division standings have Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Denver all tied for first with UALR 1.5 games back.
   It's reminiscent of the tournament when it was held in Lafayette a few years ago. East favorites Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee got upset early in the tournament and West co-division champ Louisiana-Monroe did as well. That left North Texas, which finished third in its division, to beat co-division champ Arkansas State in the championship game.

Freshman Gus Leeper's minutes a positive for UALR in victory over Middle Tennessee

   This won't come as a surprise to anyone who was there Saturday afternoon, but freshman Gus Leeper earned the top plus/minus marks in Saturday's four-point victory over Middle Tennessee.
   Leeper was slowed earlier this season by a concussion, but we've been hearing a lot about his solid play in practice over the past few weeks. And he played some good minutes on Thursday against Western Kentucky. On Saturday, he got a start and was a major contributor. And while Leeper was on the court, UALR outscored Middle Tennessee 32-24 for a +8 rating.
   Senior Alex Garcia-Mendoza was second at +7 with the Trojans outscoring the Raiders 37-30 during his time. The most points for his time on the court for the night goes to junior D'Andre Williams. UALR outscored Middle Tennessee 47-40 with him on the court.
   Leeper's +8 on Saturday also got him into the plus column for the season.
   Solomon Bozeman took over the season lead though at +47 with Marlon Louzeiro second at +44. In the past five games, Bozeman's mark of +21 is best, followed by Garcia-Mendoza's +20.